By Joe Straw
“I’m fixin’ to take a trip down south in the near future because I hear tell there’s a religious man name Jesus behind the counter in Dixon, Tennessee, servin’ up hush puppies and catfish and I want to meet that Christian man.” - The Lying Narrator
I think the prepress of this production hoodwinked me. There was a picture of three naked bottoms looking at artwork in a museum setting and the log lines (if you will) say: “What do a porn star, a stripper and a soldier have in common with a Christian, a Muslin and a Mormon?” All right, that got my attention right away. And it was Inside the Ford, one of my favorite venues. So, why not? I’ve seen great theatre at The Ford and this sounded like a good idea.
But Naked Before God was nothing like I thought it was going to be. One can never be sure at first glance about a title. What does this title mean? Are you naked before God? Or are you naked in front of God and does he really care if you’re naked? Or whenever you are naked, do you feel like you’re one with God? Or are you thinking about God when you are naked?
Circle X Theatre Company presents the world premiere of Naked Before God, written and directed by Leo Geter. It is a comedy and it is thought provoking in ways that you cannot imagine. I was definitely hoodwinked but it was a good hoodwinked.
Let’s look at this production.
Kristen (Jennifer Skinner) at first glance is a chain-smoking mom who works at Dunkin Donuts. She believes in daily affirmation but only the ones that mean something to her. And after tearing off a number of affirmations and throwing them to the floor, she pulls one and places it on the refrigerator. Forget the agley days that litter the floor, only the moment matters.
When the right words are in place, she turns on the radio and settles in on a Christian radio talk show. Ah, the sweet life of a good Christian woman.
But Kristen has an edge to her needy life. Kristen steps out onto the patio and into the light of her Arizona home. She lights her cigarette, inhales the nicotine of her cigarette, and feels satisfied. It is a glorious respite in her kingdom. In a not-so-satisfied life, her only pleasure is a smoke that coats her throat, and sends poisonous noxious gases to her already enthused lungs.
Suddenly she remembers not everyone can take the smoke. So she takes a couch pillow and bats away the lingering remains. A good Christian woman has got enough sense to smoke her cigarette outside because her daughter-in-law, Carley (Jen Kays), is pregnant. Because if you’re smoking inside, with a pregnant woman, well as they say in the south “you ain’t got a lick of sense you were born with”
Kirsten’s vocal prowess is something to behold as she rustles her son, Duncan (Morgan McClellan), to get up before he’s late for his job interview. Duncan is nineteen years old, has no prospects for college, and needs to work to help support his family. It wasn’t that long ago, that Duncan was just a boyfriend and Carley wasn’t knocked up. This is pretty much a typical Arizona family, going through typical Arizona family problems and finding solutions.
Only they are not that typical. They have slight “issues”. The stuff Kristen is boiling on the stove is not potatoes but rather dildos for Duncan’s job interview. Job intertview? These are the “tools” that he may need for his audition for an adult film. It’s just an interview but you never know, says Kirsten who wraps the dildos up in a plastic baggie and seals them tight.
“I was not a star! I was a working actress.” – Kristen
We find out that Kristen was an adult movie thespian in an earlier carnation. (Thinking back on this line, I wondered what is more provocative in that trade: being a star or a working actress?)
But Duncan has problems of his own. He is desperately searching for his birth certificate to prove he is at least 18 years old. But Kristen has misplaced it and doesn’t know its exact location. And in the melee, a package arrives for Duncan from the Middle East – a present from his father which says “don’t open until your birthday” which is in another nine months.
Meanwhile, Carly, a former professional exotic dancer, is less concerned about the job interview and more concerned about their living arrangements. She wants to move to Hawaii assuming they have the money to move.
On her way out, Kristen, once everyone out of the room, gets out of her Dunkin Donut garb, and slips into in her slutty outfit. And as she passes her son’s boyhood picture, she looks behind it and finds his birth certificate.
Later, after the filmed interview, Duncan brings home Nick (Christopher Foley) an ephebe from Kansas. These two performers have partnered up in the audition and going all the gay way, and Duncan now is infatuated with this man. Nick asks Duncan if he could stay for a while and Duncan responds that there’s a spare bedroom and Nick can stay only if he offers to buy groceries for his mother.
Kristin is outrage when she first hears of this new boarder. But when Kristen meets Nick, she is slightly infatuated with his manly physique and agrees to let him stay. Carly is not so infatuated with Nick; in fact she threatens him with a knife if he brings an STD into their lives.
Suddenly coming over the wall, through the back yard, and into the sliding glass door is Vinnie (Larry Clarke) and Octavio (Aly Mawji). Vinnie is Kristen’s ex husband who is just back from the Middle East with his friend Octavio who he tries to pass off as “Mexican.”
Kristen doesn’t want Vinnie around because she is expecting an important guest. Barry (William Salyers) is a Christian radio show host who wants to do a reality Christian television show about this family involved in the adult industry. It is a reality show with a Christian slant.
This show would not play in the south where they love Jesus to pieces and would be offended by everything in this production. Still, the performers did some wonderful work.
Jennifer A. Skinner as Kristen is marvelous in the role. There is a lot of tremendous work in her character development and her performance. Her physical life is a symposium of artful style and effect that takes her from one extreme and to another. She moves with the grace of a former adult star living a not so modest lifestyle in Arizona. She is not afraid to give it her all and she does with little muss and fuss. Go see this marvelous actress showing us her remarkable craft.
Larry Clarke as Vinnie is equally funny and wonderful in the role. As the character, he is at present a soldier, working special ops, and services his country most honorably. (In this context of the play, that sounds funny.) He formerly worked as an adult porn star with sufficient shoulders to be an excellent “top”. He is a learned man who knows and gives advice to anyone who wants to know the “tricks of the trade”. There’s a slight problem. According to the military, he is technically dead so as the character he brilliantly adapts. His facial expressions are delightful and his timing is impeccable.
Morgan McClellan plays Duncan, a young man who is supposed to be confused about his sexuality. Confusion plays well when an actor knows his objective but there is never a clear sense of what the actor wanted. Did he want the girl or the guy? Did he want to please his mother or his father? Maybe he needs to please everyone and not get caught—that might make him more engaging. This is a role that has many levels, the problem is that an actor needs to find those levels and not stop trying to find them until the end of the run.
Jen Kays does a nice job as Carly. She has a forceful personality, especially with a knife in her hand. She is six months along but one would think if she could make her role a little more physical, it might add more humor. Also, she needs to find things about her husband’s relationship with another man. She also needs to compete more strongly with her mother-in-law for the starring role. This is a good role for someone who discovers and then acts upon her discoveries.
Christopher Foley did a nice job as Nick, the boy from Kansas, who comes to stay. He has a secret in this story that is not fully realized so it doesn’t us lead anywhere. But Nick has the opportunity to choose the best partner of his liking and play those characters off against each other—mom, dad, friend, daughter-in-law, the possibilities are endless.
Aly Mawji as Octavio sits around with an impish smile on his face the whole time. Happy to be in America, I suppose. First, thought of as a Mexican and we later learn that he is an Iraqi translator. He holds the keys to his fortune, a penis, no not a penis, the penis, which he protects as though it were his own. It’s a nice job, but he needs to do a lot more with that gun in his hand. (No pun intended, it is a prop gun.)
William Salyers as Barry play a man with good intention but is slightly misguided. Where does someone get off as a spokesman for Christian radio wanting to produce a reality show based on a family of former adult stars? Wait, a minute, it’s done all the time. Still as the character, he was very convincing and charming as someone who needs this to get done and he talks sense to everyone to make sure it gets done. I’m not convinced that making him ill during the play works. One thinks having a healthier man battling for a position works more efficiently. I also love the moment where he is frightened out of his wits. This was a wonderful job.
Leo Geter as the writer and director has done a fine job putting this all together. There are wonderful moments on stage and the actors are having a marvelous time. Still there is a lot more to be had in this production. The relationships could be better developed in the interactions on stage. The battle for the alpha male supremacy can take this production to another level for the men as well as the women. A whole new world needs to open to unsuspecting characters so that they see the dollars pouring into their future and they need to fight for that future. And all of these ideas need to relate to the inherent struggles the characters have to the Christian values, Mormon values, and Muslim values to give it a little more poignancy. Still, one can’t help but laugh when leaving the theatre.
Tim Wright did a very nice job as Producer. The Scenic/Lighting Design was by Brian Sidney Bembridge. The Sound Design was by Corinne Carrillo. The Wardrobe Design worked perfectly by Ann Closs-Farley. The prop master was Heather Ho and those props were very suitable for this production.
The understudies were Jonathan Mareer, Elizabeth Rainey, and Casey Smith who did not perform the night I was there.
Go! And take a friend who was once an adult actor. That actor may have many things to discuss with you on the way home.